Here is, for your pleasure, the Pacificklaus Diving Map of the Philippines! It shows you diving locations in this incredibly diveable country. Click on each marker to find a brief description of the dive locations, some images and links to more detailed reviews of the locations. And check back regularly, since I will be adding more locations soon.
Travel to the Philippines! How to get there and around Diving People Ladies Food Health Safety Itineraries Links
If you’d like to read up on the Philippines as a travel destination in detail only achievable by a German dude, then I can recommend this fine travel guide:
But let me give you a brief & frank overview about traveling to the ‘Pinas and having a good time here:
How to get there & around?
Manila is the main international air hub for getting into the country. From there you can reach some diving destinations directly by car & boat (Anilao, Puerto Gallera), and others by plane. Cebu Pacific Airlines provides cheap air fares into Manila, and within the country.
Yeah, I admit that my review of Cebu Pacific might have been biased by the smiles of the stewardesses. They are late, sometimes. But some of their promo fares are ridiculously cheap.
Once on the ground in the country, you have the choice of long-distance bus lines, jeepneys (cheap local buses), taxis and tricycles (modified motorcycles with a 2-4 person passenger cabin). Make sure the taxi driver uses his meter. The traffic in the Philippines is a bit more anarchic than in other places, but it surprisingly still flows. You’ll learn to not flinch every time a seemingly suicidal stray dog crosses or a helmet-less motorcycle rider pulls off a particularly daring passing maneuver.
Alternative to these public transport options your dive resort can get you a car & a driver, which is more convenient & more expensive but still relatively affordable. For example, the 3 hour ride from Cebu City/Mactan airport to the south of Cebu (Santander, the ferry port to reach Amontillado/Dauin) costs 3000 Pesos (~ 57$/60 Euro).
The Philippines are located in the coral triangle, the region between eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and – of course – the Philippines, which has the highest marine biodiversity on the planet. Nowhere else will you find more fishes, corals, sea slugs, crabs, shrimps and other critters as here. It’s an underwater naturalist’s candy store.
What adds to the diversity of diving is the varied geography of the Philippines. The archipelago is made up of many different islands, exposed to a variety of ocean conditions. Some, like Malapascua, are low sand islands in the middle of a high-current area. Others, like Negros, are massive volcanic islands with sometimes rather protected coastlines. Sandy slopes have different marine life than steep rocky walls, and calm bays will host different marine animals than current-swept shoals. Many places have their own unique “specials” they are known for: The thresher sharks in Malapascua, the whale sharks in Sogod Bay and Oslob, the walls and the sardine balls in Moalboal, and the surreal macro life in Dauin and Anilao.
There are, undeniably, problems in the Philippines underwater, like in so many parts of the world. A growing population’s demand for protein has led to overfishing in some regions. Illegal fishing techniques like dynamite fishing have destroyed some reefs. I am under the impression that such bad fishing is on the decline, but some reefs are still recovering. Also, divers with poor buoyancy and bad environmental awareness also play their part in messing up the reefs.
The degree of environmental problems varies – some locations are visibly affected, while others show little degradation. Typically, the closer to a population center a marine location is, the worse the problems are.
Some of the most positive examples I have dived are Apo Island, Sogod Bay in southern Leyte, Pescador island off Moalboal and Camiguin. These are mostly unperturbed (sometimes protected) coral reefs with fantastic coral cover and a rich fish communities. But don’t get me wrong: even with some environmental problems, other spots can still have amazing diving. The attractions of such spots, like large animals or mind-boggling macro make them worth a visit even for divers who have seen much of the planet’s underwater treasures.
The Filipinos are the best part of traveling to the Philippines! You will have a good time if you simply relax in a nice resort, do some great dives, and drink cocktails at sunset. But you will have a great time if you venture out and chat up some locals. This is a happy and friendly country, and the positive mood will rub off on you. Most people speak at least reasonable English, and many will be interested in you, your home country and your travels. School kids will shout “good afternoon” and old guys will invite you to try some of their rum. Folks in the country-side often yell out “Hey Joe” when they see a foreigner, according to the logic that all foreigners are Americans and all Americans are called “Joe”. It’s funny, but it’s meant in a friendly way.
Here, like everywhere else, people want things like a slick motorcycle or a new cell phone, but the obsession with materialist pursuits has not consumed them (yet?). The urge to keep one’s economic status high, safe and secure has not gotten into the way of having fun like it has in so many richer countries. Family and friends are on top of the list of Filipino priorities. It’s a refreshing attitude.
Since I am putting together a travel guide about the Philippines, it would be incomplete without some words about the ladies here.
Let me be clear: they are fantastic. Charming, funny, often with a lot of character, but very little body fat, beautiful skin & long, dark hair, and enthralling smiles.
A lot of girls still grew up in an environment which necessitated some amount of physical effort, like getting water from the well, or walking to school for a couple of kilometers instead of being dropped off right at the gate with dad’s SUV. And guess what, that kind of exercise is good for your body, and as adults these ladies are still in really good shape. They have calf muscles instead of love handles.
Interestingly, the darker-skinned women are less popular with the Filipino guys, but often more so with foreigners. I’ve heard folks here refer to such pretty, but for the Filipino taste too dark ladies as “foreigner beauties”.
The Filipinos in general are social and chatty, and if you have any conversational skills you will meet ladies if you want to. And there is of course an economic trump card you have: there is no denying that in any place, rich guys will have it easier hooking up; and in the Philippines a Westerner with an average salary is relatively rich. That does not compensate for foul body odor or hopeless personality, but it certainly helps.
I also once heard from a friend of a friend that you can find yourself a girlfriend for a single night in one of the bikini bars in places like Angeles, Mango Square in Cebu City, or Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera. After chatting up a bar girl over overpriced drinks (still cheaper than regular beers in Sydney!), she might agree that you’ll take her home. For this to happen you have to pay a “bar fine” to the bar ownership in return for her not dancing anymore that evening. Yes, stuff like that is going on.
Whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Be respectful even if you all of a sudden are more in demand than at home. Use a condom. Have a good time and make sure she does, too.
So, do the Philippines deserve a bad reputation as a “sex tourism” destination? No. You can go diving and topside exploring in many places without coming within 100s of kilometers of any red light sleaze. Many of the “regular” women (nothing irregular about a sex worker, either!) in the country are actually rather catholic-conservative. I have heard multiple tales from female Pinoy friends that they were casually asked “How much?” by post-middle-aged foreigners – very insulting! Such unwarranted misbehavior comes from the believe that all Filipinas are for hire, which they are not!
So, if you, dear anxious married Western woman, don’t want to let your hubby go diving in the ‘Pinas for fear of him encountering any temptations in the form of bar girls, just make sure he does not head to a few places like Angeles or Sabang. Of course if a guy wants to seek out the ladies of the night he can, but that’s also true in any other country other than the Vatican (where they like choir boys).
The Filipino food is underrated in my opinion. It does not have the sophistication of some Indian or Thai cuisines, but there are definite high-lights. Try a kinilaw, a mix of raw fish, fresh ginger, onions and chilli in a slightly creamy sauce. Or dig into a big plate of shrimp with curry sauce; and don’t forget to taste a halo-halo, a cup of ice cream, slush ice, sweet beans and coconut juice. Mhhhh … I also like the pancit kanton noodle stew, especially if spicy and with shrimps.
Some of the regular Filipino food is, admittedly, a bit bland; there is an over-indulgence in greasy sausages and deep-fried chicken. So you have to know a bit what to try; start with the tips above.
What’s usually less than a culinary orgasm-inducer are the efforts of average Filipino restaurants in the (diveable) countryside to cook Euro food. That being said, in many diving locations really good Italian restaurants have sprung up, and in my former home-base of Dumaguete, two Austrian/Swiss owned restaurants are serving top international food. In big cities like Manila or Cebu City you can of course get anything you like on your plate.
With a bit of common sense, you will stay healthy during your visit to the Philippines. In the tropics it’s warm and humid year-round, which provides ideal conditions for bacterial growth. So, wash your hands more frequently, and use rubbing alcohol to disinfect them if you are on the road and about to eat. Don’t pick up rags from the road which had just served as a mattress for a stray dog. Duh. Be a bit careful with skin scratches, take care of them before they get infected. Hydrogen peroxide works wonders for that. But most of all, don’t panic about health issues.
Malaria only occurs in some parts of Palawan – when traveling there take prophylactics or emergency medication as advised by your medical doctor or personal shaman. There are occasional cases of Dengue fever, in the unlikely case that you catch that you will have to stay in the hospital for a couple of unpleasant (very unpleasant!) days for observation. I personally have never gotten anything worse than an upset stomach lasting for a few days. And a few hangovers, of course.
Oddly, upper respiratory tract infections (“colds”) go around here just as they do in countries where it’s actually cold. This happens more so during the wet parts of the year.
In case you do need medical attention, all the doctors and nurses will speak excellent English. The hospitals don’t always look shiny, but will provide competent medical treatment, even in smaller provincial towns. Very small islands frequented by divers (like Malapascua) don’t have a medical doctor, but then it’s only a matter of hopping on a boat for 20 minutes to get to one. Also, you can get a few types of antibiotics without a prescription, and while it’s not ideal to self-medicate with such powerful drugs, it’s a good alternative if no doctor is near-by.
Most of the Philippines is a perfectly safe travel destination. Realistically, petty theft is the only crime you miiight encounter. Again, common sense goes a long way: Don’t go to poor neighborhoods in large cities like Manila or Cebu City at night. In Dumaguete, the small provincial capital near my former home base, I was not even concerned when walking around at night on my own. Sure, I’m a big guy. But in resorts, with fences and security guards, you can feel completely safe, whoever you are.
Now, if you read the international news you will have heard of the Islamist political violence which occasionally flares up in some parts of the Philippines. How can I call “most of the Philippines a perfectly safe travel destination”, you will then ask? Fortunately these unfortunate conflicts are restricted to the few provinces in the east of Mindanao with large Muslim populations. Outside of this region on the border with Malaysia, the Islamist have zero popular support in the mainly catholic Philippines. The dangerous provinces are Cotabato, Zamboanga, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, all in western Mindanao. There is little tourism and diving infrastructure anyway, and I would also discourage independent backpacking or bird-watching trips. However, you won’t ever enter these regions by chance when you dive in the peaceful part of the Philippines many 100 kms away. Even other parts of Mindanao, like Davao or Camiguin are safe.
This sad conflict between the Philippine state (and the previous colonizing powers) versus the islamist guerillas and associated crime groups in Mindanao has been going on for hundreds of years. It’s prolonged by a toxic mix of islamist ideology, poverty and justified grievances, and organized crime. However, it will not affect any traveler in the rest of the Philippines. It’s a situation somewhat comparable to the UK when the IRA was active in Northern Ireland – these “troubles” didn’t dissuade anyone from a trip to London or Wales (even though the IRA was occasionally active outside of their home lands, in contrast to the islamists in Mindanao).
As a side note, the MILF is probably the most ridiculously named terrorist organization in the world!